James: Pure & Practical Wisdom (Week 3)

 Wisdom in action.
James 1:19-27 
22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

As James moves onto describing faith in terms of action, he does so by reminding his recipients that the word of truth was planted in them not so that they would be an informed people but rather that they might be a mobilized people.  This section of James’ letter is really an exhortation to show their true identity by their reactions and deeds.

The first area of action that James tackles is that of controlling anger as he exhorts his readers to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger.  What James knows is that words have meaning, they have affect and they have roots.  Whilest words can bring encouragement and blessing they can equally bring dissension, destruction and curses.  Anger rises up quickly in the human heart and each of us have the capacity to use words with the intent to cause pain.  James stern warning is that human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires therefore his advice is simple – slow down, wait, reflect, understand before you react. Take time to humbly replace the filth and evil within the human heart with the implanted word of truth.

Secondly he encourages his readers to not just be hearers of the word but also doers.  James observes that if we just listen to the word we deceive ourselves.  It is possible to be fooled into thinking that information alone is the same as wisdom.  However religious information is not what makes a disciple; imitation is the characteristic of true disciple.  Discipleship and the growth of wisdom, is when we act on what we have heard not just listen. When we live out Jesus’ words  in action it shows that our faith in Him is real, genuine and sincere.

Listen to the full sermon and other sermons in this series here.

Questions to discuss in groups:

What kind of behaviours would you expect to see in someone who calls themselves a christian? 

Take a moment to read together James 1:19-27

  • Why do you think it is the case that “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”? When then is it right and proper to express anger?
  • What do you think “moral filth” is referring to in verse 21? How do we get rid of it?
  • James seems to be saying that you cannot have faith without works, how does this fit with what Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9?
  • James refers to “the word” throughout this passage, (v18, 21, 22) what do you think James is describing here?
  • In verse 22, James writes do not merely listen to the word and so deceive ourselves, how might we be deceived here?
  • What do you think is the perfect law that brings liberty?  What kind of dynamic is James describing in verse 25?
  • James describes three things as pure and undefiled religion in verse 26-27, why do you think he chooses those three things as examples?
  • What has impacted you most about this passage?

For Personal Reflection:

  • Consider keeping a journal of your words this week. Have your words contained slander, gossip, unkindness, rudeness, rage?  Reflect upon what lays at the root or your words?  Repent of your words and ask God to work the fruit of self-control into your speech?
James 1:25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.

Wisdom for each day:

Monday: Am I good at listening? 

The writer of Proverbs writes “To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.”  (Prov 18:13) James picks up on this maxim with regards to anger.  It is so often the case within relationships that we are quick to be offended; to lash out before we have truly understood what the other person is saying or why indeed they are saying it.  James advice is such wise counsel and with God’s help we can practise and learn to be better listeners. It could be that many arguments would be avoided if only we took the time to truly listen and understand.  Consider and pray about how you might practise listening to others today.

Tuesday: What is my anger telling me? 

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:26 “In your anger do not sin.”   Anger in and of itself is not sin. In actual fact, it is a sign that a goal that we have has been blocked.  Either it has been blocked by someone else or by circumstances around us.  Take for example the golfer who plans to go golfing on a particular day and his plans are thwarted because of rain; he feels angry.   Now compare that to a farmer who finds himself rejoicing because of that same rain.  Two different people, two different goals with the very same circumstances experience very different emotions. When we feel anger we have an opportunity to stop and reflect upon our goal and why that goal is so important to us.  It is then that we can stop anger in it’s tracks from causing us to behave in a way that might be sinful. Today when you feel angry, consider what that emotion is telling you about your goals?  Are those goals godly goals or are they idols?

Wednesday: Is my faith working? 

I have met so many people, young and old who genuinely believe that they will go to heaven because they are good people.  And the truth is that they are generally good people.  Sadly however they have a “faith in their own works” rather than a “faith that works”. There is a distinct difference.  Faith in their own works people trust in their ability to live moral lives in order to gain God’s approval however faith that works people know that they have God’s approval because of Christ and therefore are free to live for Him and with Him.  The later leads to a transformed life; a life that loves what Jesus loves and does what Jesus does. The former only leads to pride and self-deception.

Thursday: Do I know who I am?

James uses the metaphor that the person who only listens to the word but doesn’t do what it says is like a person who glances in the mirror, walks away and immediately forgets what they look like. In other words, the truth of who they are has not imprinted in their mind and heart.  James is reminding us that for those who believe in Jesus, we have a new identity – we are children of God.  In the reality of our modern world with it’s pressures, media, voices and busyness it is possible for us to forget our face, our true identity.  To be people who say one thing but do another. Living incoherently and inconsistently. James answer is to “look into” the perfect law.  This “look into” is not a cursary glance like the man in the mirror but a sustained pouring into – he means for us to allow the word of God to read us; to be our true mirror that tells us who we are and how we ought to live.   How do you allow the word of God to be a mirror for you in your life?

Friday: Do I have others who are helping me to live out my faith?

Frog mentioned on sunday how John Wesley and his friends would gather together regularly for accountability and to champion one another to better their relationship with God.  They were both incredibly intentional and vulnerable in their discipleship group having a list of 21 questions they would ask each other.  The first three on the list were:
1. Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
2. Do I confidentially pass on to others what has been said to me in confidence?
3. Can I be trusted?
God has given us three things to help us grow in our relationship with God and the daily living out of our faith.  He has given us His word, His Spirit and His people.  Is there someone that asks you the deep questions about your life?

Saturday:  Do I understand the Father’s heart?

James refers to God as our Father twice in chapter 1.  The first time is in relation to him wanting to give us wisdom (v5) and the second is in relation to how he has shared his nature with us when he brought us forth as his children (v18).  James is reminding us of the true nature of our relationship with God and that he relates to us like a father to their child.  A good father is not only involved in bringing a child’s life into being but is concerned for how that child might truly flourish and live in the world that they have entered into.   This is God’s heart for us.  He doesn’t just want us to exist but to flourish in our existence.  Do you understand God’s fatherly heart towards you?